Shaun Stafford: Face of an angel, body of a beast – SFME Exclusive with Dubai Muscle Show star

Stafford

If you only saw a headshot of Shaun Stafford you’d think he was an angelic surfer boy but his muscular figure paints a different picture. The 6ft tall Brit has all the credentials to be a Hollywood star but he found his calling in the bodybuilding industry where he’s won a number of accolades such as becoming the WBFF Pro Fitness Model World Champion this year. SFME’s Scott Grayston caught up with the former rugby player after his visit to the UAE for the Dubai Muscle Show where he competed and met fans for the second year in succession. 

SFME: You began your career as a rugby player for Oxford University. What made you convert to bodybuilding as a full-time profession?

Shaun Stafford: Like so many people playing contact sports, it was an injury that lead to the switch in focus. I was not enjoying waking up feeling battered and bruised after every game, as it was keeping me out of the gym; then when I hurt my shoulder and was out of action for months, I realised that I missed the gym more than I missed playing on the field. That’s when I decided to make the change.

SFME: Do you think playing sport and having that competitive nature gives you an advantage when it comes to bodybuilding?

SS: Absolutely! I think you need that inner drive and have to overcome challenges to succeed at anything. I think with bodybuilding it is even more obvious. The diet and brutal training forces you to really question why you are doing it all. I think it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are looking to beat anyone else, more that you want to see your own self progress. That inward-looking competitive nature is probably what drives most bodybuilders.

SFME: How much did you enjoy the Dubai Muscle Show?  What kind of activities did you get up to whilst visiting the UAE?

SS: I loved the event and meeting all the fans. It was a great energy, and everyone that came out to say hi made us feel very welcome.

In terms of typically Middle Eastern things, we visited a lot of the landmarks and had some incredible local food. The over-all hospitality shown to us was top level.

SFME: You’ve got the surfing look going on? Has that always been your style?

SS: I have kind of had the same look going on for 15 years. I’m thinking I should mix it up a little bit! What do you think? But seriously, I have had long, messy hair for as long as I can remember and have no real urge to change it. I’ll go a bit longer or shorter depending on my mood when I have it cut, but I kind of like the beach styled look so can’t see myself changing it anytime soon!

SFME: How often do you train?

SS: It varies with what I am training for but I generally like to lift weights three or four times a week and do other forms of exercise (cardio/mobility/flexibility) work on the other days.

If I am focusing more a physique goal, then my weights sessions could increase to five or six times per week, whereas if I am needed to have more cardiovascular fitness, my cardio sessions will be more frequent and intense!

SFME: What’s your secret to building mass whilst still remaining lean?

SS: There is no secret, it is just simple trial and error! I never go crazy high or low with calories and try and stay lean(ish) throughout the year. For me, I don’t particularly want to be any bigger so more of a focus is placed on my condition, being strong and being fit!

If I see that a certain way of eating and training is giving me the look I want, I will keep it up! If I start to put on some unwanted bodyfat, then I’ll either reduce what I’m eating slightly, or do more exercise. It’s that simple for me.

SFME: You are the WBFF pro fitness model world champion. What’s involved in a pro fitness event and how does the training differ from conventional bodybuilding? 

SS: I’m not sure the training is that different to be honest. I think we are both focusing on balance, symmetry and conditioning. I think with the Men’s Physique and Fitness Model categories, there is an emphasis on not being too muscled or big. Trying to maintain a long and lean physique is key to doing well, so you would always favour condition over size. I would say that is an obvious difference to bodybuilding.

In terms of what is involved in the actual event, we are a lot more-low key when it comes to our posing: you will rarely see a fitness model overtly flexing on stage! We need to portray the look of being effortless, whilst still showing off our physiques and marketability. It is not easy, but it can certainly be achieved with practice. It also makes for a very different experience from the spectator point of view when you compare our events to that of bodybuilding.

SFME: Would you say winning this event is your greatest achievement? 

SS: I think in the grander scheme of things being a good person, husband to my wife and father to my son is a greater achievement and something that I continually strive to be better at. But from a purely fitness point of view, winning my last World Championship was a definite highlight.

I was very lucky that I actually won my first ever WBFF World Championship, before placing third the following year! This gave me the motivation to come back even better, to work on my weakness and bring the total package back to the stage the following year. I managed to do this and won back the title to become the first ever two times Male WBFF World Champion. That is certainly one of my career highlights to date.

SFME: If you could transport back to when you first started lifting and getting ripped, what advice would you give yourself in terms of dieting and training?  

SS: I would actually focus on being more functional. As I get older and the years of bodybuilding take their toll on the muscles and joints, I wish I had invested more time in mobility and flexibility when I was younger. I have no doubt that if I had spent a little more time on the stretch matt and a little less time on the bench press, I would not only be in much better shape now, but be a much more complete athlete.

SFME: What are your major targets for 2018?

SS: I think 2018 will be a big year for me. I am looking to branch out and try more things that will challenge me within fitness and life in general. I recently ran my first 10km race and really enjoyed it. I also did my first ever mountain climb on two wheels, and really enjoyed that too.

Whereas my base will always be in physique and bodybuilding, I want to try and grow outside of the gym; I think there is much more to fitness that simple sets and reps and I’m excited to see where that takes me over the next 12months.

SFME: What’s your favourite thing to indulge on in a cheat day?

SS: I’ll eat anything, but the biggest thing for me on a cheat day is not necessarily eating bad things, more that it is not having to worry about what I’m eating. No macros, no calories… it can all be healthy, clean food, but I don’t want to think or worry about what I am eating! For me that freedom is the best things about a cheat day. Saying that, if you ever want to see me take down the world’s biggest ice-cream sundae, I think I’m definitely up for the challenge!